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Technology

Less traffic, trash and cash: Japan leads SE Asia to smart cities

Tokyo and 200 companies battle Chinese rivals for 26 high-tech projects

Rapid economic growth has brought a flood of traffic to Hanoi: Japan wants its companies more involved in Southeast Asia's infrastructure market.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Some 200 Japanese companies and organizations will take part in an initiative to develop smart cities in Southeast Asia, as Tokyo battles for influence with its Chinese and South Korean rivals.

Participants will engage in projects in 26 cities in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including efforts to ease traffic congestion and develop cashless payment systems.

Japan's transport, foreign affairs, and economy ministries on Tuesday opened a two-day meeting in Yokohama with ASEAN officials. On the agenda is the creation of a smart city network and a document outlining cooperation between Japan and the 10 members of ASEAN.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made infrastructure exports a centerpiece of the country's growth strategy. Japan received 23 trillion yen ($214 billion) in overseas infrastructure orders in the fiscal year ended March 2018, up from 15 trillion yen four years earlier. The government hopes to raise that figure to 30 trillion yen by the end of 2020.

Market intelligence specialist IDC estimates the smart city market will be worth about 20 trillion yen by 2023, twice as large as in 2018.

Smart cities combine artificial intelligence, information technology and big data to enhance urban infrastructure and improve the environment. As ASEAN's economies and populations have grown, they are grappling with problems such as gridlocked streets and a growing pile of trash.

The 26 cities will serve as testing grounds for projects, including development of electronic payment systems and other cutting edge technologies. The initiative will also encompass traditional infrastructure projects, such as wastewater treatment. A project team will be set up for each city to analyze local needs. and the Japanese government and companies will propose technologies and offer financial support. The hope is to reach agreements with two or three city governments by next spring.

Many projects aim to ease congestion in densely populated urban areas. Hanoi plans to develop a traffic control system using IT, while Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, aims to introduce a system to analyze and manage traffic data. Malaysia's Kota Kinabalu is considering a public transportation project that would include light rail. Jakarta plans to introduce a unified cashless payment system for all public transportation.

Japanese companies have traditionally taken on infrastructure projects in emerging and developing countries, mainly roads, dams and power supplies. Tokyo wants to move into projects aimed at making cities more efficient and livable -- areas that Japanese companies excel in.

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